Seconds in the City

by Josef Woodard

I ❤ NEW YORK: “For fuck’s sake, this is New
York, isn’t it?!” She taunted the crowd, then repeated the
potty-mouthed mantra, both for emphasis and to remind us that the
tongue was semi-cheeked. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
inimitably charismatic singer Karen O was
introducing a special encore “They Don’t Love You Like I Love You,”
at the Roseland Ballroom in Midtown. Reportedly, the band had just
played Coachella, failing to connect in any intense way in the
desert. But their raucous arty ploy worked wonders in this room.
For fuck’s sake, this was New York City, wasn’t it?

Really, O’s shout-out was a Rock Show equivalent of the
over-eager Amtrak announcer, retro kitsch in his veins, bellowing
“Ladies and gentlemen, next stop: New … Yo-o-ork … City!” It’s a
city (not unlike Santa Barbara) forever high on self-regard. That
may also be an extension of a general American impulse, for better
and/or worse (thank you, Mr. Bush).

Art-watchers in N.Y.C. are making haste — or at least paying
default deference — to the Whitney Biennial, now a blur of names
and notions on the Upper East Side. Don’t start your Whitney visit
by taking in the modest but hopelessly seductive sampler of
Edward Hopper paintings on the top floor. After
basking in the grandly detached American splendor of Hopper
classics like “Seven A.M.” and “Summer Interior,” the Biennial’s
power — though bursting and fizzing over with ideas and conceptual
gimcrackery — diminishes by comparison.

At the risk of seeming like an Old Phart, where are the Hoppers
of today? Or does the question reveal a misunderstanding of the
contemporary art zeitgeist?

A different kind of real-time zeitgeist held forth in the
pint-sized but inspiring East Village club called the Stone, the
house that John Zorn built. When Zorn met
trombonist/computer wizard George Lewis one night
a few weeks ago, it was the kind of lofty, free-improvisational
summit meeting that can make other improv encounters seem like so
much hopeful child’s play and nose-blowing.

May’s programming at the Stone is dedicated to the late, great
avant-guitar hero Derek Bailey, who had planned
and curated the month’s doings, but whose death earlier this year
cut short his high artful life. Bailey’s plans were nonetheless
carried out, and the Lewis-Zorn meeting comprised two-thirds — also
with Bill Frisell — of the historic News for Lulu
concerts/albums of the ’80s. Bailey was missing, but not entirely:
Lewis called up samples of his voice on laptop in the midst of
improvisations, alternately lyrical and manic, in the most
cathartic and controlled way.

This was also the week that trumpeter Dave
 — habitual poll winner, yet an underdog in broader
public terms — hunkered down for a week at the Village Vanguard
(another of those must-experience venues for any jazz fan). Douglas
unveiled his reconfigured quintet, with fine tenor saxist
Donny McCaslin replacing Chris
, and further proved why Douglas is making some of
the most important and least dogma-tied jazz anywhere. Douglas
ventures “outside,” but also tends to structure, melody, and
resolution. He needs to darken the doors of the “Jazz at the
Lobero” series.

After midnight, one could walk a few blocks from the Vanguard to
the vibe-y little haunt, the 55 Bar & Grill, and catch the
weekly stint by amazing guitarist Wayne Krantz,
joined by flexible, freewheeling drummer Keith
, freed from the backbeat duty of his gig with
Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, and
others. Carlock and Krantz were recently toasts of Fagen’s band at
the Arlington, but here they were in more interstellar,
commerciality-be-damned form.

Post-9/11, N.Y.C. has changed, but its
embarrassment-of-enticements remain. On the subway, a generic,
accent-less male voice gently booms: “… remain alert, and have a
safe day.” Forget about a nice day: Safety and alertness are new
priorities, there and everywhere. But the cultural pulse still
races. It ain’t over until after the fat ladies and tenor players
stop singing. (Got e?


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